The Immaculate Conception in Oxford

Mgr Andrew Burnham writes…

The Immaculate Conception, in more senses than one, marks the beginning of Christmas. It was also the day of the last Eucharist, 17 years ago, in the parish of St John, Carrington, Nottingham.  We had the Mozart Coronation Mass, and, as an innovation, I sang the Dialogue and Preface in Latin, so that the choral and orchestral Sanctus would follow on more logically.

Those were Anglican days and I had no reason to suppose that there would be any splendour this year, when I celebrated the Immaculate Conception for the first time as a Catholic.  I expected that on this day, it being no longer a holy day of obligation, there would be no help in the sanctuary,  that musicians would be busy with the premature Oxford Christmas,  and that there would be almost no congregation.   As it was, there was help in the sanctuary, and a fine trio of singers, singing a mass by Lotti, him of Crucifixus fame.  The turn-out, on a filthy Thursday evening, though not large, compared well with our normal Saturday evening Vigil Mass congregation and included one or two visitors.

It was a beautiful Mass but I must confess to a sin against charity.  Mathias, the organist, a Lutheran, was improvising beforehand on the chorale Liebster Immanuel , which for Anglicans has associations with Epiphany.  (The English Hymnal uses it for ‘Brightest and best’).   As I was vesting, I felt impatience that Protestant prejudices were being exhibited – focusing on the child and not on His mother – but, of course, I was quite wrong.  In Catholic usage, Liebster Immanuel is set to ‘Mary Immaculate’, and that hymn, proper to the Immaculate  Conception, was sung towards the end of Mass.

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